4 Best Coupon Matchup Sites for Groceries – Our Real-World Test

Every time I read a blog about extreme couponing, I’m in awe at the author’s grocery shopping skills. By stacking (combining) coupons with sales, these super-shoppers save over 50% on every product they buy. But when I try to copy their strategies, I just can’t find that many deals — even after hours of cross-checking coupon inserts against my local supermarkets’ sale flyers.

But there are couponing sites that promise to make it easier to save money with stacking deals. Their staff members do the work of matching sales with coupons so you don’t have to. But can these sites really find the kinds of deals you can’t unearth on your own?

To find out, I did a head-to-head test to see which coupon sites could find the best savings on a basket of groceries at local supermarkets. Comparison points included features, accuracy, and ease of use to discover which coupon matchup site is the best of the bunch.

Pro Tip: Before you head to the grocery store, download the Fetch Rewards app. With Fetch Rewards, you can scan your grocery receipts and earn points you can redeem for gift cards to your favorite stores. For more information, see our Fetch Rewards review.

Best Coupon Matchup Sites Test

To be included in the test, sites had to be able to do all of the following:

  • Find Stacking Deals. Each of these sites does one particular thing: match grocery coupons with sales. There are no other sites related to couponing, including coupon-clipping services, price-comparison sites, and printable coupon sites like Coupons.com.
  • Search Multiple Stores. Coupon matchup sites are the most valuable when they can find the best deals across all the supermarkets in a given area. So sites that focus on one particular store, such as I Heart Publix, didn’t make the cut.
  • Include Stores in My Area. I wanted to be able to check out the deals I found personally, comparing them to the store flyers and, if possible, to the prices in the store itself. Since I live in the northeast, I had to rule out the popular Southern Savers, which specifically looks for deals in the southern United States.
  • Are Still in Business. Surprisingly, one of the best-known coupon matchup sites, The Grocery Game, shut down in 2016. However, posts on social media complaining about this site’s disappearance led to the discovery of a couple of other sites that do the same job.

After some fairly extensive searching, four sites met all the criteria. To conduct the test, I visited each site and searched for stacking deals on five items I regularly buy: breakfast cereal, orange juice, canned soup, my favorite conditioner, and oxygen bleach. Note that coupons for fresh foods, such as produce or eggs, are rare.

I checked each site’s deals against my piles of supermarket sale flyers and coupon inserts to ensure they were legitimate. Then I rated each site on a 5-point scale for three factors:

  • How easy it was to search
  • How accurate its deals were
  • How much savings they offered

Finally, I averaged these scores to come up with a total score. So, which coupon matchup site came out on top?

1. CouponMom.com

There’s a lot going on at CouponMom.com. This free site has an extensive database of printable coupons from various sources and multiple tools to search for stacking deals. You can look for grocery, drugstore, state-specific, store-specific, and product-specific deals.

Ease of Use

The landing page for CouponMom.com is pretty cluttered, with moving ads, pointers to specific deals, and search boxes. Amid all this chaos, it’s hard to figure out where to go first. Since I was looking for five particular products, I started with the box labeled “Search Deals,” where you can search for a product by name.

I typed in the first item on my list, cereal, and got a list of dozens of cereal deals at different stores nationwide. But when I started clicking to see details, I found that most of these were cash-back deals from Ibotta. There was no clear way to weed these out and see only deals that required nothing but the store loyalty card and a coupon.

So instead, I went to “grocery deals by state,” selected “New Jersey,” and clicked the deal pages for specific stores in my area. I had to sign in to an account to view those, but setting one up was free and took only a few seconds.

The links for Aldi and Stop & Shop did nothing but display my local stores’ sale flyers. But the page for ShopRite was much better. It presented a list of products with columns for the sale price, how many I’d have to buy, available coupons and rebates, final price, and percentage saved.

The column showing the available manufacturer coupons used a somewhat confusing shorthand. The site provided a key for some of the abbreviations, such as “S” for SmartSource and “RP” for Red Plum, but it didn’t explain others, such as “SV.” On the plus side, CouponMom.com provided direct links to all the printable online coupons it found, which was handy.

I was then able to sort the list using a keyword box at the top. I entered each of the products from my shopping list in turn to see available deals. That part was easy, but it didn’t make up for the inconvenience of only being able to view actual deals for one store.

Ease-of-Use Score: 2 out of 5

Accuracy

When I checked the sale prices CouponMom.com listed against the store circulars, they were mostly correct. But one of the four wasn’t in the flyer. The only way to check its accuracy would be to make a trip to the store, an extra step coupon matchup sites are supposed to help you avoid.

As for the accuracy of the coupons themselves, there was only one to check. It was right in the SmartSource flyer where CouponMom.com said it would be, but getting a single coupon right isn’t much of a test. So this site loses one point on accuracy for giving me so little to work with.

Accuracy Score: 4 out of 5

Value

CouponMom.com could only find deals on one of my five test products (cereal) and only at one store. Moreover, one of the four deals it found wasn’t a stacking deal, just a sale price I could have found on my own by leafing through the store flyer. Two of the others were Ibotta deals, leaving only one that was useful.

That deal was $3.89 each for two family-size (16.9- to 19.1-ounce) boxes of Kellogg’s Special K cereal. Combined with a printable coupon for $1 off two, that yields a purchase price of $3.36. That works out to a unit price between $0.18 and $0.20 per ounce, much more than I typically pay by shopping sales and buying store brands.

To me, that doesn’t look much like extreme couponing. At best, it’s mild to moderate couponing.

Value Score: 1 out of 5

Overall Score: 2.3 out of 5


2. GrocerySmarts.com

Like CouponMom.com, GrocerySmarts.com has two primary features: printable coupons and searchable deals. For some reason, it sorts its coupons into four groups, with different brands in each group. Fortunately, the site helps by providing a list of the latest coupons from the past 10 days or so and telling you where to click to find each one.

Ease of Use

Searching for deals at GrocerySmarts.com was pretty simple. First, I clicked on the drop-down menu at the top of the page and asked to see deals in New Jersey. The site then displayed a second drop-down menu with a list of stores to choose from.

Unfortunately, this list didn’t include any of the supermarkets where I usually shop. The only stores on the list were CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. Also, I had to view deals from each of these stores separately rather than looking at them all on one page. That cost the site 1 point on its ease-of-use rating.

On each store’s page, I used the search feature on my browser to look for the merchandise on my list. But I ran into a snag. It lists some cereals, such as Cheerios, by brand name only and doesn’t include the word “cereal.” I had to scan the whole list to ensure I was seeing all the cereal deals.

GrocerySmarts.com presents its deals for each store in one long list. There’s one column for the product, one for the sale price, one for the applicable coupon (if any), and one for the final price. Instead of showing the savings percentage, GrocerySmarts.com simply rates each deal as 3 stars, 4 stars, extreme, or free.

The list also tells you where to find the coupons you need for a given deal. If there’s a printable coupon, the site includes a link to it. It also shows which goods qualify for Ibotta deals and provides links to those.

If the coupon is in a newspaper insert, the site identifies the insert with an abbreviation similar to the ones used on CouponMom.com and the date. If there’s more than one available coupon for the same product, the site lists it multiple times.

To use the site to create a shopping list for a given store, click the Start button at the top of the page. Click to highlight the specific deals you want, then click on Shrink to hide all the lines you didn’t select. You can click the star at the top to quickly highlight all extreme and free deals. There’s also a field at the bottom to jot notes on your shopping list before printing it.

Ease-of-Use Score: 4 out of 5

Accuracy

Like CouponMom.com, GrocerySmarts.com couldn’t find deals on anything but cereal, and most of them were Ibotta rebates. The only deal that I could use was at CVS. It relied on a SmartSource coupon for $1.25 off three boxes of Life, Cap’n Crunch, or Quaker Oatmeal Squares. This coupon was correctly labeled and identified.

But the site’s description of the sale wasn’t quite accurate. It said the only brand on sale at CVS was Cap’n Crunch at $1.99 a box. But when I checked the CVS sale flyer, I found it applied to Life and Quaker Oatmeal Squares as well.

If I’d simply relied on GrocerySmarts.com for my info, I might have rejected this deal altogether since Cap’n Crunch isn’t a cereal we like.

So even though the sale price, coupon, and math were all accurate, this site loses a point for its inaccurate description. And it loses a second point for giving me so little to go on in the first place.

Accuracy Score: 3 out of 5

Value

I docked GrocerySmarts.com 3 points for value because it could only find deals on one of the five products on my list. Also, because it searches so few stores, the deals it did find weren’t at the stores where I usually shop.

The final cereal price it found was $1.57 per box for three 12.5- to 14-ounce boxes. That works out to between $0.11 and $0.13 per ounce. It’s a better price than CouponMom.com’s but no better than the usual price for the store brand. That cost the site one more point on value, resulting in a weak final score.

Value Score: 1 out of 5

Overall Score: 2.7 out of 5


3. The Krazy Coupon Lady

When you visit The Krazy Coupon Lady (KCL), you see updates on the latest hot deals at all kinds of stores. In addition to supermarkets and drugstores, this site covers department stores, restaurants, specialty stores, and even online deals at Amazon.

KCL provides lots of details about these featured deals, including photos and a couple of paragraphs of text. From the main page, you can also link to coupons and deals sorted by brand or store. Under “Couponing Resources” at the bottom, there are general guides to couponing and guides for specific stores.

Ease of Use

The primary way to search for deals on KCL is by store. You select a specific store from the main page, then click on the weekly coupon deals box (the first available box on the page under the app banner) to see a list of the latest deals from that store. You can then use your browser’s page search feature (control or command plus F) to look for individual products you want.

But weekly deals aren’t available for all stores. For instance, when I clicked on Stop & Shop, the last update was over two months old. The page for Trader Joe’s simply said, “There are currently no active deals.” (Since then, both these stores have disappeared from the site entirely.) And the page for Rite Aid showed one recent deal but no weekly list. I docked the site one point for this.

The weekly deals list includes details about each offer. It shows the sale price and provides links to printable coupons, downloadable store coupons, and Ibotta deals. A few of its deals also include manufacturer coupons from SmartSource, which are marked with the abbreviation “SS.” I couldn’t find any deals using coupons from Red Plum.

The site includes check boxes next to each listed item. You can click these boxes to add a product to your shopping list, but it’s not immediately obvious where that list is stored. I eventually found out you have to click your profile picture in the top right corner to access it.

But there’s a notification on the site saying this feature will soon be available only in the KCL app. That takes a lot of the functionality out of the website, costing it one more point.

Ease-of-Use Score: 3 out of 5

Accuracy

After checking KCL’s pages for all my local stores, I couldn’t find a single deal on any of the products on my grocery list. So to test the site’s accuracy, I simply searched for the “SS” abbreviation and checked the coupons it listed against my SmartSource insert.

Some of the coupons KCL identified were real. It correctly located manufacturer coupons for Eggland’s Best eggs in the May 2 insert and Nivea lotion in the May 16 insert. But it also cited two other coupons in the May 16 insert that I couldn’t find.

In short, KCL got only two out of four manufacturer coupons right, for an accuracy rate of just 50%. But when I checked some of its links to digital store coupons on the ShopRite site, they were all accurate. That bumped its score up from 2.5 points to 3.

Accuracy Score: 3 out of 5

Value

This one was an easy call. KCL didn’t find me a single deal I could use — not even those other sites identified. That makes it a dead loss as far as value is concerned, so it earned no points.

Value Score: 0 out of 5

Overall Score: 2 out of 5


4. Living Rich With Coupons

Like KCL, Living Rich With Coupons (LRWC) displays a long list of recent deals on its main page. It includes offers from a wide variety of stores, including supermarkets, department stores, and online retailers. There are links at the top of the page for categories including coupons, online deals, and stores.

Ease of Use

This site allows you to search for deals in several ways. If you click the Filter by State drop-down on the landing page and select the name of your state, LRWC filters its long list of deals to include only those available in your area. But this option is only available for nine states: California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.

Alternatively, you can also click on Stores in the main navigation and select a store to see a list of that store’s weekly sale prices, including coupons you can stack with them. The site has deals for national big-box stores Target and Walmart, warehouse stores Costco and BJ’s, dollar stores, drugstores, and regional grocery chains like ShopRite and Kroger.

To find deals on a specific product, such as cereal, you can click on the site’s Grocery Price Comparison Tool and enter the product name in the search box. The site pulls up a list of all the stores that have deals on that item, and you click on the names of the stores you want to search.

LRWC then presents you with a list of all the stacking deals on that product sorted by the stores you selected. For every sale, it includes a lengthy list of all possible coupons that could stack with it. The site provides direct links to printable online coupons. For coupons inserts, it lists the flyer, the date, and the coupon’s expiration date, a handy feature most coupon sites don’t have.

But I noticed one odd quirk in LRWC’s list. It didn’t provide the actual sale prices for every store in its list. For instance, it said CVS had a BOGO (buy-one, get-one-free) deal on raisin bran, but it didn’t say what the regular price was.

Even when it did list the sale price, LRWC didn’t always crunch the numbers to tell you what the purchase price was after stacking the sale with a coupon. These problems cost the site 1 point for ease of use.

When you click an item in the Grocery Price Comparison Tool, the site adds it to your saved shopping list, shown on the right side of the screen. Clicking the print or email icon pulls the list up in a separate window. For each deal on the list, LRWC shows the store, the product, the sale price, how many you must buy to get that price, and all possible coupons to pair with the sale.

You can edit the list before printing or emailing it to yourself. You can remove items you don’t want to see, such as coupons you don’t intend to use, or change the quantity of a product you want to buy. You can also manually add goods you didn’t find deals on, with or without custom notes.

Ease-of-Use Score: 4 out of 5

Accuracy

LRWC found deals for all five of the products on my shopping list. Its best cereal deal was from Stop & Shop: Kellogg’s cereals for $1.50 per box, which could stack with any of nine different coupons.

However, there was a problem with the deal. According to the Stop & Shop sale flyer, the price was only good for three days, Friday through Sunday. By the time I ran my test, it had already expired. LRWC neglected to mention that detail, costing it one point for accuracy.

LWRC also listed sales on Kellogg’s cereal at several other stores. But for some reason, it didn’t match them with the same list of coupons it had found for Stop & Shop, even though they would clearly work. This oversight cost it one more point.

In a few cases, LWRC found deals I couldn’t verify. Some were allegedly “unadvertised” sales, so I had no way of checking them without going to the store. I didn’t add or take off points for these.

However, other deals were clearly wrong. For instance, LWRC claimed ShopRite was selling Campbell’s Slow Kettle Soups for $1.99, but that price was not in the sale flyer. That could have been the regular price, but LWRC also paired it with a digital store coupon I couldn’t find on the store site. That cost it another point.

All the other sale prices LRWC found seemed to be accurate. But while checking them, I noticed there were other deals it missed. For instance, it said I could buy Florida’s Natural orange juice for $2.99 at ShopRite, then add a coupon for $0.98 off two to bring the price down to $2.50. But it didn’t notice the same store had larger cartons of Minute Maid OJ for just $1.88.

Also, in some cases, LRWC’s math was wrong. For instance, it said a sale of $1.88 per box on Quaker cereals paired with a coupon for $1.25 off three boxes would yield a purchase price “as low as $1.55 each.” In fact, the purchase price with this coupon is $1.46 per box. I knocked off one more point for this.

As for the coupons, all the printable ones I checked seemed to work. The one coupon that came from SmartSource was also accurate. A few were from a flyer labeled only as “Save,” an abbreviation I couldn’t identify, so I don’t know whether these coupons were accurate or not.

Accuracy Score: 1 out of 5

Value

Of all the sites I tested, LRWC was the only one to find deals for all the items on my list. Unfortunately, not all the deals it found were legit, and it missed some that were.

For instance, if LRWC had paired the $1.88-per-box sale on cereal at Walgreens with the $1-off-two coupon it found at Stop & Shop, it could have given me a purchase price of $1.38 per box. Since the sale covered boxes up to 13.7 ounces, that would have come to a great price of around $0.10 per ounce. But LRWC missed that deal, so it gets no credit for it.

The prices it actually found were:

  • Cereal: $1.46 per 11.5- to 14.5-ounce box ($0.10 to $0.13 per ounce)
  • Orange Juice: $2.50 per 52-ounce carton ($0.05 per ounce); missed a better deal of $1.88 for 59 ounces ($0.03 per ounce)
  • Oxygen Bleach: $4.99 for a 48-ounce container ($0.10 per ounce)

Out of the five sites I tested, LWRC found me the best price on cereal. Its price for oxygen bleach is also pretty good. However, its OJ deal is lackluster, and it missed a better one I could have found just by checking the sale flyer.

Value Score: 3 out of 5

Overall Score: 2.7 out of 5


Final Word

Of the four sites tested, GrocerySmarts.com and Living Rich With Coupons tied for the best overall score. Both were easy to use, but GrocerySmarts.com was more accurate, while LWRC found better deals overall.

But neither of these sites was the perfect coupon-stacking resource I was hoping to find. In most cases, the stacking deals they uncovered were no better than the prices I usually get on my own without coupons.

Of course, what works for me isn’t necessarily what will work for you. If your local stores have better sales than mine or if you regularly buy more products you can find coupons for, these coupon sites could save you some significant money. Just double-check all the deals you find to make sure they’re legit.

Speaking for myself, I think I’ll stick to other methods for saving money on groceries. Between my grocery price book, store loyalty cards, and buying store brands (especially at discount stores like Aldi), I think I can find prices good enough to give the extreme couponers a run for their money.

Source: moneycrashers.com

8 Ways to Save Money on a Bathroom Remodel or Renovation

Remodeling a bathroom is one of the costliest home improvement projects. According to HomeAdvisor, the average bathroom remodel costs around $10,911 as of April 2020. A high-end remodel for a large or master bathroom could run you $25,000 or more.

But if those numbers are too much for your budget, that doesn’t mean you have to live with your dingy, dated bathroom forever. There are ways to refresh a bathroom for considerably less. According to This Old House, homeowners have redone their bathrooms for $6,000, $4,000, $2,000, and even less than $1,000.

I also know from personal experience it’s possible to renovate a bathroom on a budget. In 2011, my husband and I redid our guest bath for less than $900, including a new sink, toilet, vanity, faucets, light fixtures, floor tiles, paint, and accessories. With a bit of ingenuity and effort, other homeowners can do the same.

Ways to Save on a Bathroom Remodel

Our budget bath remodel and those featured on sites like This Old House and Apartment Therapy all have one thing in common: The homeowners looked for ways to save money anywhere they could. We didn’t necessarily use the same techniques, but we all relied on numerous money-saving strategies to get the job done for less.

The tips that helped us and other homeowners save money on our bathroom renovations fall into several major categories.

1. Plan Ahead

During any remodeling project, one of the costliest things you can do is change your plans halfway through. At best, it delays the project while you return materials and buy new ones. At worst, it requires you to pay contractors to redo work they’ve already done.

Sometimes, in-progress changes are unavoidable, such as when you cut into a wall and discover a leak. But in most cases, you can avoid them by thinking things through carefully before anyone picks up a tool. It’s much cheaper to know in advance you don’t want the toilet to be the first thing guests see when they open the door than figure it out once you’ve already installed it.

That’s why the first step in any bathroom remodel is planning. Before you buy anything or hire anyone, think about what you want from your new bathroom. What is it about the room that doesn’t work for you now, and how can you fix it? List everything you want your remodeled bath to have, and then sort that list into must-haves and nice-to-haves.

Take your time figuring out your wants and needs. If you can’t figure out the best way to accomplish all your goals, you can hire a bathroom designer for a consultation. According to Hunker, this service typically costs $200 to $400, and it can help you avoid mistakes that cost money to fix later.

In addition to thinking about the layout, spend time comparing options for visual elements like tile, plumbing fixtures, and light fixtures. That way, when you’re finally ready to get started, you know exactly where to shop to find what you want at the best price. Buying in a hurry often means paying extra or settling for something that isn’t ideal.

2. Keep the Footprint Unchanged

One of the best ways to save on a bathroom remodel is not to remodel at all. People often use the terms bathroom remodeling and bathroom renovation interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing.

A remodeling job involves making significant changes to the room’s footprint, or its size, shape, and structure. It can include making changes to any or all of these:

  • The room’s foundation
  • Walls, especially load-bearing walls
  • Plumbing lines
  • Locations of plumbing fixtures, such as the sink and toilet
  • Electrical wiring

Renovation means freshening up the bathroom’s look — tile, wall color, flooring, lighting — while leaving its basic layout unchanged.

Changing the footprint adds time and labor costs to the project. It also usually involves getting building permits, which are a significant expense. The cheapest bathroom redos are usually renovations rather than full remodels.

There are lots of ways to change the look of a bathroom without changing the footprint. You can change the fixtures, walls, flooring, lighting, and accessories without moving anything. You can even make a small bathroom feel larger by adding a lighter paint color, a clear glass shower door, or a skylight to let in more natural light.

If you absolutely have to add square footage to your bathroom or change the arrangement of fixtures, keep the changes to a minimum. That way, you limit the number of labor hours you need from expensive contractors like plumbers.

3. Do the Work Yourself

According to HomeAdvisor, roughly half the cost of bathroom remodeling is labor costs. Homeowners spend an average of $65 per hour paying contractors, including carpenters, plumbers, electricians, drywallers, and floor tilers. Thus, the more of your bathroom remodel you can DIY instead of hiring a contractor, the more you can save.

But DIY is only a money-saver if you have the necessary skills. Some jobs, like moving plumbing lines, are best left to the pros. If you try to do them yourself with no training beyond a five-minute YouTube video, you could cause a flood. The damage that does will cost a lot more than hiring a plumber in the first place.

However, most homeowners can handle at least some of the jobs in a bathroom renovation. Depending on your skill level, you could tackle jobs like:

  • Demolition (pulling out old wallboard, flooring, and cabinetry)
  • Painting
  • Tiling
  • Replacing faucets and showerheads
  • Adding accessories like towel racks
  • Installing bathroom lights
  • Installing new plumbing fixtures

Homeowners with a little DIY experience can take on more ambitious DIY projects. For instance, when we couldn’t find a stock vanity cabinet we liked, my husband built one from plywood and beadboard.

A Texas homeowner profiled by This Old House made almost all the materials for his powder room renovation. He poured his own concrete countertops, built new doors and drawer fronts for the vanity, and even welded a new frame for the mirror. Another couple in Missouri built their own cabinetry, made custom light fixtures, and enameled an old bathtub.

4. Reuse Existing Pieces

Doing the work yourself is the primary way to save on labor costs. But when it comes to materials, there are lots of different ways to save. One of the most effective is to refurbish the pieces you already have rather than buying new ones.

With a little work, you can change the look of nearly any piece in a bathroom, such as:

  • Bathtubs. One homeowner was able to salvage an old, rust-stained tub by having it cleaned professionally. You can also fix surface damage to porcelain, cast iron, and fiberglass tubs by refinishing them. A DIY tub refinishing kit costs around $80.
  • Shower Enclosures. A tiled shower enclosure can look like new if you clean both tile and grout thoroughly. The grout may also need some patching in worn areas. To give it a fresher look, you can stain white grout a darker color. If you have acrylic or fiberglass shower walls, you can patch dented or cracked spots. A repair kit costs under $20.
  • Sinks. You can dramatically change the look of a sink by replacing the faucet. If the porcelain is cracked, you can repair it with either a porcelain repair kit or a two-part surface repair epoxy. Both cost less than $15.
  • Toilets. Rather than paying $100 or more for a new toilet, give yours a new look by replacing the toilet seat and lid for $30 or less. To add a touch of elegance, opt for a wooden toilet seat or soft-close model that doesn’t slam shut.
  • Cabinetry. You can save hundreds of dollars on cabinets by painting or refinishing the pieces you already have. If the doors are too damaged, replace them while keeping the cabinet boxes. According to HomeAdvisor, that typically costs $30 to $100 per door, not counting labor.
  • Floors. Like shower enclosures, you can refurbish tile floors by cleaning them thoroughly and replacing or staining the grout. If you have wood floors, you can have them professionally refinished for $3 to $8 per square foot, according to HomeAdvisor.
  • Walls. The cheapest way to change the look of your walls is to repaint them in a different color. If you have tile walls you don’t like, you can install new wood panels or beadboard wainscotting over the tile. At around $20 per beadboard panel, that’s cheaper than tearing it out and replacing it, and it lets you switch back to tile later if you want.

5. Use Paint Creatively

Just changing the paint color in your bathroom can make a surprisingly significant difference to its overall look. But you can do a lot more with paint than just roll it over a wall. Creative homeowners have used it for:

  • Textured Effects. You can give a wall a textured look by using two different colors. Start by giving the whole wall a base coat in one color. Then use a textured tool, such as a sponge, rag, or comb, to apply the second coat. We used a sponging-off technique in our bathroom to create a look similar to stucco.
  • Faux Wallpaper. Paint can give you the look of wallpaper with less money and effort. For instance, you can make your bathroom look larger by painting it with broad, horizontal stripes. Or use a stencil to create a pattern on the wall.
  • Faux Tile. You can also use paint and stencils on a wood or concrete floor to create the look of tile for less. Just use sturdy porch paint and three coats of polyurethane to stand up to the humid environment.
  • Real Tile. According to Sherman Williams, it’s even possible to paint over real tile. Clean the bathroom wall tile thoroughly, scuff it with sandpaper, and apply a water-based acrylic primer. Top it with a durable latex or urethane paint, and you have “new” tile without the hassle and expense of replacing the old tile.
  • Refinishing Fixtures. You can use enamel paint to salvage an old bathtub or spray paint and lacquer to change the finish of a sink faucet.

6. Use Cheaper Materials

There are limits to what you can do with paint. But there are many other ways to substitute cheaper materials for pricier ones and get the look you want for less. To stretch your dollars when renovating a bathroom, splurge on just one or two high-impact items, such as countertops or a clawfoot tub, and choose cheaper alternatives for everything else.

There are cost-effective alternatives for nearly every part of a bathroom remodel.

Walls

Tile costs a lot more than paint or paneling. To keep your costs down, limit your use of tile on the walls as much as possible. Use it only in areas that get wet regularly, such as the tub or shower enclosure.

For the rest of your walls, painted drywall is the cheapest alternative. However, wood panels can create a more interesting look at a lower price than tile.

Flooring

Bathroom flooring options fall into three price ranges. The cheapest options are laminate and vinyl, which can cost $1 or less per square foot. Wood and ceramic tile are midrange alternatives, and stone tile is the priciest flooring of all.

If you crave the look of stone, it’s often possible to get it with a cheaper ceramic. One inexpensive bathroom remodel covered by This Old House includes slate-look ceramic tiles that cost only $85 for the whole room.

Tub and Shower Enclosures

If you can’t refurbish your existing shower walls, the cheapest way to replace them is with large panels of fiberglass or acrylic. These cost as little as $100 each and are quick to install.

However, if you prefer the look of a tiled wall, go for porcelain or ceramic tile rather than pricier glass or stone. You can also save time and money by choosing larger tiles. These require less grouting, so you save on labor costs.

If you’ve fallen in love with a fancy designer tile, search for a cheaper look-alike. Alternatively, use the fancy tile as an accent, filling in most of the wall with a more affordable tile. Not only will you save money, but the expensive tile will stand out more.

As for the front of the tub or shower enclosure, a shower curtain is cheaper than a glass door and easier to install. It’s also easy to clean — just take it down and toss it in the washer. And you can easily swap it out any time you want to change the look of the bathroom.

Tub and Shower Hardware

If you need to replace your bath or shower handles, spout, and showerhead, it’s probably cheapest to buy them as a set. These sets, called trim kits, can cost as little as $100 to $200 each.

However, if the handles are still in good shape, it could be cheaper to keep them and replace the showerhead only. A good showerhead contributes a lot more to a satisfying shower than nice-looking handles. Many top-rated showerheads cost less than $50.

Countertops

A stone countertop for your vanity is cheaper than stone counters for your kitchen since it’s a lot smaller. But other options are much less expensive.

According to HGTV, the most affordable countertop choices are laminate and ceramic or glass tiles. Engineered stone and solid-surface countertops cost more, but they’re still cheaper than granite or marble.

If you really love the look of stone, there are several ways to get it for less:

  • Use Tiles. Tile your countertop using marble floor tiles instead of a slab. The DIY’ing Missouri couple used this method, paying just $9 per square foot for their marble tiles. With white grout, the joins are hardly visible.
  • Use Remnants. Ask local suppliers if they have any stone left over from a bigger job. These remnants are often cheaper than a whole slab, and you don’t need much to make a vanity top. If you’re using a contractor, you can ask them about remnants as well.
  • Try Prefab. If your vanity is a standard size and shape, you can save money by choosing a prefabricated slab. It’s cheaper than having a piece cut to size. But it limits your options for color and edge details.
  • Choose a More Affordable Grade. Natural stone slabs come in different grades. A slab with more imperfections costs less, and if the flaws are in the center — where the hole for the sink will go — they won’t even show.
  • Keep the Edges Simple. Stone and prefabricated countertop materials are cheapest with a plain beveled or bull-nose edge. You can save by choosing these edge finishes over a fancy ogee or waterfall edge.

Cabinetry

The cheapest type of storage for the bathroom is open shelving. You can create wall-mounted shelves with nothing but a plank of wood and some wall brackets. These can go on any empty wall, including behind the toilet, to use all the space in the room.

If you want to keep your bath supplies behind closed doors, stock cabinets are cheaper than custom cabinetry. You can also compromise between the two by choosing semi-custom, ready-to-assemble cabinets. This product lets you configure size and features to fit your space. But the more options you add, the more it costs.

As for cabinet materials, laminate or thermofoil cabinets are cheap and easy to clean. However, they can warp over time, so they may not save you money in the long run. You can save on wood cabinets by choosing pine, maple, oak, or alder over pricier mahogany, cherry, or walnut. If you prefer darker wood, you can buy cheaper pieces and stain them.

The style of the cabinets also matters. You save the most by choosing flat doors rather than doors with raised panels and drawers rather than pullout cabinets. Shop around to find brands of both cabinets and hardware that give you the look you want at the lowest price.

One inexpensive and trendy option for a vanity cabinet is to repurpose an old dresser. You can find dressers through secondhand sources like garage sales and Craigslist for much less than you’d pay for a store-bought vanity cabinet.

Toilets

Considering they all do the same job, there’s a surprising range in the price of toilets. As a rule, round toilets are cheaper than those with an elongated bowl, and two-piece toilets cost less than one-piece ones. Two-piece toilets take up more room and are a little harder to install, but they’re easier and cheaper to repair if they break.

One type of toilet to avoid is a wall-hung model with the tank recessed into the wall. This design saves space, but it’s harder to install and repair, costing you money.

It’s also worth considering water-saving toilets. These don’t cost significantly more upfront, and they save you money on your water bill over their lifetime.

7. Shop Secondhand

Another way to save on materials for your bathroom renovation is to buy them secondhand. The Missouri couple who created a luxury master bathroom on a $6,000 budget got nearly everything used, including a salvaged clawfoot tub, discarded cabinet doors from a kitchen and bath showroom, a scavenged marble scrap for a countertop, and a yard sale mirror.

Shopping secondhand isn’t as easy as going into a store and putting things in a cart. It pays to start early to ensure you have plenty of time to find what you want. While you’re still in the planning phase of your remodel, start checking secondhand sites for items that match your wish list.

Places to find secondhand materials include

  • Reuse Centers. If you have a reuse center in your area, you can find everything you need for your bathroom remodeling project there, from tile to light fixtures. When we redid our bathroom, we hit the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and found Italian ceramic tile for under $3 per square foot and a cultured marble sink and vanity top for $30.
  • eBay. You can find nearly anything on eBay, including bath supplies. The Texas homeowner who redid a powder room for $705 bought a sink, faucet, and light fixtures from online auctions for $390 total. Just remember to factor in shipping costs when buying online, especially since bath items can be heavy.
  • Craigslist. Check the for-sale section of your local Craigslist site for bath bargains. A quick search of the listings on my local group turned up plumbing fixtures, countertops, cabinetry, light fixtures, and even a ventilation fan.
  • Nextdoor. Nextdoor is a social media group designed to help neighbors connect. Members can buy and sell unwanted goods through the Finds section. Listings for bath pieces aren’t that common, but it’s worth a look.
  • Freecycle. Through the Freecycle Network, members give away unwanted items to people in their area at no cost. Check your local group for free stuff you could use as part of your bathroom remodel.
  • Flea Markets. Check out flea markets for antique pieces for your bath remodel, such as a clawfoot tub or an old-fashioned light fixture. Just don’t buy anything you can’t haul home since there’s no delivery service.
  • Antique Stores. Antique stores are another excellent source of vintage furniture and materials. But they’re likely to charge higher prices than other resellers.
  • Yard Sales. Shopping at garage sales is a hit-or-miss proposition. You can’t always find what you want, but when you do, the prices are terrific. The Missouri couple with the $6,000 master bath renovation made several affordable finds at yard sales, including a $35 etched glass mirror and a marble slab for just $1.
  • Your Own Home. Don’t hesitate to reuse materials left over from other projects in your bathroom renovation. Several homeowners profiled by This Old House reused leftover materials, including paint and beadboard.

8. Look for Bargains

If you can’t get all the materials for your bathroom secondhand, you can save by finding them on sale. For instance, one couple from New York found a cast-iron bathtub on sale for $350. Most new cast-iron tubs cost $1,000 or more.

The holiday season is an excellent time to find remodeling materials on sale. According to CabinetNow, the best seasonal sales on cabinetry occur on Black Friday and in the weeks before Christmas.

However, shopping sales isn’t the only way to find deals on new materials. One of the best ways to find bargains is to shop around. Comparison-shopping websites and tools can help you find the best prices when shopping online. Other money-saving browser extensions can help you find coupon codes to cut costs still more.

Also, don’t overlook discount sites like Overstock.com. This site offers everything you need for a bathroom renovation, from tubs to tile, at prices well below retail.

If you find reasonable prices for several products in one store, but its prices on other things you need are higher, find out if the store offers a price-match guarantee. If it does, you could get the best prices on everything you need at once without having to visit multiple stores.

Finally, if you buy a lot of materials from one place, ask about volume discounts. Home centers like Home Depot offer discounts on bulk sales. It’s primarily for professional contractors, but it can’t hurt to ask.


Final Word

A bathroom remodel doesn’t have to cost a small fortune. There’s no doubt that some upgrades, like a fully tiled walk-in shower or expanding the square footage of your master bath, can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. But with good planning and a little creativity, you can make your bathroom into a luxurious retreat on a much smaller budget.

Moreover, updating or adding a bathroom to your home is a home improvement project that adds value. According to the 2021 Cost vs. Value Report from industry publication Remodeling magazine, homeowners who remodel their bathrooms recover an average of 55% to 60% of the money when selling the home. And if you can manage to add the same resale value on a smaller budget, you can boost that percentage even more.

Do you have other rooms to redo? Check out our articles on budget kitchen remodels and basement remodels.

Source: moneycrashers.com

The 6 Best Ways to Save Money for Kids

If you think higher education is in your child’s future, consider a 529 college savings plan.
Ready to stop worrying about money?
If you plan on covering some, but not all college expenses, you can tweak this formula to suit your situation. For instance, Fidelity recommends targeting a savings goal of ,000 multiplied by your kid’s current age if you plan on covering 50% of college costs and assume your child will attend a four-year public school. The financial institution provides a couple of examples of parents covering different percentages of fees and what that would look like at different ages of their children.
First, assess your total financial picture. Take inventory of your outstanding debt, and create a budget if you haven’t already.
If you want to save money, there are many ways you can go about it. Whether you’re thinking ahead to your child’s college education or just want to set aside a little something for when your child reaches a certain age, you have more than a few options to reach your savings goals.
(Have you picked your jaw up off the floor yet? Good. Keep reading.)
As with all investments, there are fees and risks associated with 529 plans.
There are also plenty of child-friendly bank accounts you can choose from to encourage your children to start saving early and often. A savings account is a good start.

Planning for Your Kids’ College Savings and Future Expenses

Source: thepennyhoarder.com
Now on to the good news: You have many options to start saving for your child’s future today, no matter your budget.
Again, that’s just the estimated cost. And there are grants and college scholarships available to help families chip away at the fees.
With this plan, a saver opens an investment account for the beneficiary’s qualified college education expenses, including room and board. This money can be applied toward universities (and some outside the U.S.), and withdrawals can also be used to pay up to K at elementary and high schools.

5 Ways to Save Money For Your Kids’ College Education

What’s the best type of savings account for a child? We’re glad you asked!

1. 529 College Savings Plans

How much money you “should” save depends on a few factors. For one, there are a lot of variables to consider: How much will a university degree cost in X number of years? How long do you think your child will go to school for? (Two years, four years or more years for advanced degrees.) What amount can you afford to regularly sock away for expenses?
These plans are sponsored by state governments as well, but there are fewer residency requirements. Investments in mutual funds and ETFs are not guaranteed by the federal government, but some bank products are protected.
A Roth IRA is an individual retirement account. You fund it with money you’ve already paid taxes on. So, when the time comes (typically at age 59 ½), you can withdraw your Roth IRA contributions and earnings tax free. However, you can withdraw this money earlier, penalty-free, to pay for higher education costs for your child.

Prepaid Tuition Plan

A 529 plan, or qualified tuition plan, is a tax-advantaged investment account. This means the money grows tax free and you can also take it out tax free. Each state (plus the District of Columbia) offers at least one plan. You can view minimum and maximum contribution limits and other considerations by state here.
With this plan, a saver or account holder can purchase units or credits at a participating university and lock in current prices for future tuition costs for the beneficiary. Typically, this money can’t be used for elementary and high school costs, nor be put toward room and board at college.

Education Savings Plan

While interest rates are low and whatever interest you earn is taxed as income, an FDIC-insured bank savings account is a tried and true (and safe) place to store money — whether yours or your kid’s.
With a Roth IRA, they’ll get tax-free money when they retire. They can also use these funds to help pay for their own qualified college expenses. While your child will have to pay taxes on the earnings, they won’t face an early withdrawal penalty.
You generally have more flexibility with brokerage accounts: You can choose from a variety of investments and make withdrawals at any time. Note: If your child does plan on going to college, the value of this account will be included in financial aid calculations.
There are other online calculators that can help you determine what you should save, depending on what your child’s future education plans might entail (like grad school). Again, a financial advisor or certified financial planner (CFP) can help you plan for college costs in way that accommodates your needs.

2. Roth IRA

Anyone can use a 529 college savings plan (no annual income restrictions!) and you can change the 529 beneficiary to another family member without incurring a tax penalty.
Here are three questions we see pop up time and again when it comes to investing in your child’s future. Oh. And this figure doesn’t even factor into university costs.
Of course, you can invest your money in a few different ways — some combination of a 529 plan; Roth IRA; or, UGMA, UTMA, brokerage or savings accounts — so you have options.

3. UGMA and UTMA Accounts

Sticking with college, here are additional ways to save that you and your child can work toward. Whether you’re a new parent or a year out from sending your kid off to college, consider these opportunities to save money.

Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA)

A brokerage account allows you to invest money in stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Once you deposit your money, you can work with a financial advisor or robo-advisor, or both, to invest and grow your money.

Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)

File this under “Things You Already Know” — kids are expensive. What you might not know is the best ways to save money for kids, and we’ve got your back on that.
This account establishes a way for someone under 18 years old to own securities without requiring a trustee or prepared trust documents.

4. Brokerage Account

Here are several ways you can invest and save money for your children, whether you want to open a college savings plan or start a rainy-day fund.
A parent or guardian will need to serve as the custodian, since minors generally can’t open brokerage accounts. Children need to have an earned income (part-time jobs, like babysitting, count) to contribute to it. Like adults up to and under age 50, they can only contribute up to K to the Roth IRA annually. Once the child turns 18 or 21 years old (depending on the state in which they live), control of the account must be transferred to them.
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5. Savings Account

College is an investment, and it can be a pricey one. By saving early (and with the magic of compound interest on your side), you can earn a bigger return on your money down the line.
And, mom and dad, when the time comes, make sure you fill out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA).
There are two types of 529 plans: prepaid tuition plans and education savings plans.
Consider meeting with a financial expert to help you craft a plan that’s best for you.
The cost of raising a child from birth through age 18 is roughly 3,610, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). To break that down further, that’s around K per year, per kid.

graduation cap filled with money on sidewalk
Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Additional Ways to Save Money for College

Save early and save regularly, and you’ll be off to a good start.Contributor Kathleen Garvin (@itskgarvin) is a personal finance writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida, and former editor and marketer at The Penny Hoarder. She owns a content-writing business and her work has appeared in U.S. News, Clark.com and Well Kept Wallet.

  • Ask for gifts toward their education expenses. If friends and family would like to give a gift to your child, ask them to consider putting any money toward their college fund. You can do this for any birthday or holiday, though the earlier you start investing in their education, the better. (Bonus: Your 1 year old doesn’t have the capacity to ask for the latest toy and won’t object to this gift.)
  • Encourage your kid to work and save. Once your child is of legal working age, they can get a job and start saving money for their school expenses. Even saving a small amount per paycheck can help them make a dent in later costs; you might also consider “matching” their savings to incentivize them (for example, give them $1 for every $20 they put away for college).
  • Look to companies and professional organizations. Your workplace may offer opportunities to children of employees looking to earn money for college. Some large companies, like UPS, offer such scholarships. Review your company handbook or ask your HR department about any available opportunities. Professional organizations, like the Rotary Club, are also known to offer scholarships and grants for continuing education. If you belong to any organizations or other clubs, look out for these benefits.
  • Apply for scholarships and grants. Additionally, encourage your high school student to look for scholarships and grants to help mitigate their college costs. Universities typically offer money for students who fit certain criteria — such as transfer students or people in certain majors — and meet other requirements. There are all sorts of weird scholarships, contests and even apps that can help them earn money for school, too. Just make sure they weigh the pros and cons of any entry fees and stay on top of contest deadlines.

If we use the earlier figures from CollegeCalc that forecast what a four-year education will cost in 2039 (5,167.67 / 4 = ,792 a year), it’s recommended you put 1 a month into a college savings plan. This calculation assumes an after-tax return of 7%, an annual tuition increase of 7% and four years of school.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

It’s great if you’re able and want to contribute to your children’s future expenses and education fund — student loan debt has surpassed a whopping .7 trillion in the U.S. — but you need to be smart about it. If you put yourself in a precarious financial situation, it can be more difficult for you to course-correct later.

When Is the Best Time to Invest Money for College?

With that said, don’t let getting started “later” deter you from saving at all. It’s kind of like the Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” You want to save what you can as early and regularly as possible. But if life circumstances prevented you from doing so before, right now is the next best time to start saving.
On average, tuition and fees ran ,411 at private colleges and ,171 for in-state residents at public colleges for the 2020-2021 school year. The estimated cost of a four-year degree, 18 years out?

What’s the Best Way to Invest Money for a Child?

Most prepaid tuition plans have residency requirements for the saver and/or beneficiary, and are sponsored by the state government (and not guaranteed by the federal government). However, not all state governments guarantee the money paid into them, so it is possible to lose money. Additionally, your mileage may vary with this plan if the beneficiary doesn’t attend a participating college, resulting in a smaller return on investment.
First things first: If you have nothing saved for retirement, focus on your own needs before you start saving for someone else. You’re on a more fixed timeline. Plus, you can’t borrow for retirement savings like your child can for their education.
5,167.67.

How Much Money Should I Save for My Child?

Looking for more options that aren’t exclusive to education? You can invest in a taxable brokerage account.
The good thing about putting away money for your children is that there is no one “right” way to do it. You can open a 529 plan for your child early on or later as they get closer to college aid. Or, you can fund a brokerage account so you’re not held to stricter rules about how the money’s spent.
If you want to invest in your kid’s future without choosing an account that’s for education expenses only, look into a Uniform Gift to Minors Act or UTMA Uniform Transfers to Minors Act.
Don’t forget the old standby: a traditional savings account.

The Best Way to Save Money for Kids

This account is similar to a UGMA. However, minors can also own property such as real estate and fine art.
A custodian will also need to be set up for this type of account. Parents can set up a custodial account and then make withdrawals to cover child-related expenses. Once the child is of legal age, the assets are transferred to their name. Since the funds for both UGMA and UTMA accounts are in the child’s name, they cannot be transferred to another beneficiary. <!–

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Stock Market Today: Stocks Buck Surprise Jump in Jobless Claims

The major stock indexes improved for a third consecutive session, logging mild (but pleasantly surprising) gains Thursday in the face of a disappointing jump in weekly unemployment filings.

The Labor Department reported that first-time claims for jobless benefits jumped to 419,000 for the week ended July 17 – an increase of 51,000 filings and far more than economists’ forecast for 350,000.

However, Anu Gaggar, senior global investment analyst for Commonwealth Financial Network, says the news isn’t as bad as the headline figure suggests.

“We need to filter the noise in the data points and not lose sight of the big picture, which is that the trend line continues to head lower,” she says. “There has been some distortion in data and in consensus expectations around automakers’ annual retooling shutdowns that will work its way through the system in the upcoming weeks.”

Although investors initially reacted with early selling, stocks gradually recovered over the course of the day. The Nasdaq Composite (+0.4% to 14,684), S&P 500 (+0.2% to 4,367) and Dow (up marginally to 34,823) all logged modest gains, helped by the likes of mega-caps Apple (AAPL, +1.0%) and Microsoft (MSFT, +1.7%).

The industrial average also benefited from a boost in shares of chemical giant Dow Inc. (DOW, +1.3%), which reported Street-beating earnings and sales.

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Small caps weren’t so fortunate. The Russell 2000, which had outperformed the major indexes the past two sessions, dropped 1.6% to 2,199.

Other action in the stock market today:

  • Amid the onslaught of earnings reports hitting the Street, Netgear (NTGR) was a notable loser in the wake of its results, sinking 9.5%. In its second quarter, the computer networking company generated adjusted earnings of 66 cents per share, well below what analysts were expecting. Revenue of $308.8 million also fell short of the consensus estimate. In addition, NTGR lowered its current-quarter revenue and operating margin forecasts.
  • On the flipside, foam clog maker Crocs (CROX) surged 10.0% in the wake of its second-quarter earnings results. CROX reported better-than-expected adjusted earnings of $2.23 per share on record revenue of $640.8 million. The company also raised its full-year revenue guidance, now expecting annual sales growth of 60% to 65%.
  • U.S. crude oil futures rose for a third straight day, climbing 2.3% to settle at $71.91 per barrel.
  • Gold futures edged up 0.1% to $1,805.40 an ounce.
  • The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) dipped slid 1.2% to 17.69.
  • Bitcoin rallied for a second straight day, improving 2.2% to $32,394.24. (Bitcoin trades 24 hours a day; prices reported here are as of 4 p.m. each trading day.)
stock chart for 072221stock chart for 072221

It Will Pay to Be Picky

Although Thursday’s disappointing unemployment claims are by no means a reason to panic, they do add to the argument that stocks might be rallying on increasingly wobbly ground.

“There are over 9.2 million job openings, the highest on record by a long shot, yet many are hesitant to get back in the labor force,” says Cliff Hodge, chief investment officer for Cornerstone Wealth. “One data point isn’t a trend, and a one-off can probably be chalked up to delta variant concerns. If jobs data doesn’t inflect soon, the markets and the Fed will be put on notice.”

If data undermining the case for continued economic recovery keeps stacking up, investors might want to be a touch more discerning about their stock picks than they would be during a true go-go period for markets.

Folks focused on generating income should prioritize companies with the financial mettle to easily pay (and generously raise) their dividends.

And as for those who prefer growth, don’t stick your neck out too far. These 11 growth-at-a-reasonable-price (GARP) stocks provide both attractive growth prospects and reasonable risk profiles that will cushion any downside in a broader market selloff.

Another potential source of protection and upside potential are these 11 “safe” stocks – a collection of equities highlighted by investment research firm Value Line for both their fundamental strength and their bright forward-looking prospects. Read on as we run down this group of stable stocks expected to deliver sizable gains over the next year-plus.

Source: kiplinger.com

What Is a Carry Trade in Currency Markets?

Carry trade is a strategy used by some traders who invest in currency markets to take advantage of differences in interest rates. In a carry trade, an investor buys or borrows a security or asset at a low interest rate, and then uses it to invest in another security or asset that provides a higher rate of return.

Here’s what you need to know about how a carry trade strategy works and the risks associated with it.

What Is a Carry Trade?

In a carry trade, forex traders borrow money at a low interest rate in order to invest it in an asset with a higher rate of return. In the forex markets, the currency carry trade is a bet that one foreign currency will hold or increase its value relative to another currency. Of course, this strategy hinges on whether or not interest rates and exchange rates are in the traders’ favor. The wider the exchange rate between two currencies, the better the potential returns for the investor.

Recommended: What Is Forex Trading?

Even so, a carry trade strategy can be a relatively simple way to increase an investor’s returns, assuming they understand the difference in interest rates. In that way, it’s similar to understanding “spread trading” as they relate to stocks.

How Do You Execute a Carry Trade?

Carry Trade Example

Imagine that the US dollar has a 1% interest rate, but the British pound has a 2% interest rate. A trader could take 100 US dollars, and then invest that 100 dollars into the equivalent number of pounds (according to the exchange rate), and earn a higher return in interest. The discrepancy in interest rates allows traders to take advantage and earn higher returns.

This is a rather simplistic carry trade example, professional traders and investors can engage in complex carry trade strategies, and even employ the use of a carry trade formula to help them figure out expected returns, and whether the strategy is worth pursuing in a given situation.

Rather than simply buying one currency with another, traders often execute a carry trade that involves borrowing money in one currency and using it to purchase assets in another currency. In this scenario, traders want to borrow the money at the lowest possible interest rate, and do so using a weak or declining currency.

That can create higher profits when they close the deal and pay back the borrowed money. In general, carry trade is a short-term strategy, rather than one focused on the long-term.

Recommended: Short-Term vs Long-Term Investments

Is a Carry Trade Risky?

The concept of a carry trade is simple, but in practice it can involve investment risk. Most notably, there’s the risk that the currency or asset a trader is investing in (the British pounds in our previous example) could lose value. That could put a damper on a trader’s expected returns, as it would eat away at the gains the difference in interest rates could provide. Currency prices tend to be very volatile, and something as mundane as a monthly jobs report released by a government can cause big price changes.

The greater the degree of leverage an investor uses to execute a carry trade, the higher the potential returns–and the larger the risk. In addition to currency risk, the carry trade is subject to interest rate risk. Given the risks, carry trades in the currency markets may not be the most appropriate strategy for investors with a low tolerance for risk.

The Takeaway

Carry trades are one way for investors or traders to generate returns, although the approach involves some risks that aren’t present in other types of investment strategies. While the carry trade concept is straightforward, it can quickly get complex when institutional investors put it in place.

If you’re ready to start investing in less complicated investments, a great way to start is by opening an account on the SoFi Invest® brokerage platform, which allows you to buy or sell stocks, ETFs, trade crypto and more.

Photo credit: iStock/akinbostanci


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).

2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.

3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.

For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
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Source: sofi.com

5 Strategies for Paying Off Car Loan Early

Is your monthly car payment a burden to your budget? Paying off your car loan early can earn you much-needed financial freedom and save you potentially hundreds (or thousands) of dollars in would-be interest. 

You can pay off your car loan early using several effective strategies, but before you do, consider any potential penalties and effects to your credit score.

The True Cost of a Car Loan

It’s no secret that cars are our worst big-ticket investment. Unlike houses, which typically increase in value over time, and education, which theoretically opens the door to higher earning potential, cars lose their value over time. In fact, a new car depreciates in value as soon as you drive it off the lot and will lose 20% to 30% of its value in the first year.

That’s a big deal, especially given the average cost Americans are spending on new cars in 2021. According to KBB, that hard-to-swallow number is over $40,000, up more than 4% over 2020.

That means Americans are shelling out $40,000 for a car that, in a year, will be worth anywhere from $28,000 to $32,000, representing an $8,000 to $12,000 loss.

But there’s more than just the sticker price to consider. In addition to sales tax (average of 10.12% in 2020, though it varies by state), be prepared to pay interest on your car loan. Right now, the average car loan interest rate (also referred to as APR, the annual percentage rate, though there’s a difference) is over 4%.

APR includes the interest rate, in addition to other fees, like loan origination fees or mortgage insurance. You should use the APR, not the flat interest rate, when calculating what you’re paying.

Your APR will depend on the current market and your credit score. The better your credit score, the lower your APR. If you have a weak credit score and can put off buying a car, it is advisable to build up your credit score before applying for a loan.

For 2021, rates are expected to hover between 4% and 5% for 48-month (four-year) and 60-month (five-year) loans. 

Car Loan Calculator: An Example

Interest on a car loan adds up. Let’s take the $40,000 new car as an example, with a $995 dealer fee. Assume you put $2,000 down and have a tax rate of a clean 10% and an APR of 5%. You’ve agreed to pay off the loan over 60 months, or five years. (The typical car loan is anywhere from three to seven years; the shorter the loan period, the higher the monthly payment.)

In this scenario, the total cost of the vehicle after tax and dealer fees is $44,995, minus your $2,000 down payment. That leaves $42,995 to be financed. Given the 5% interest rate over 60 months, your monthly payment would be $811.37.

Over 60 months, you will end up having paid $50,682.20 (including down payment) for a car that, with taxes and dealer fees, cost just $44,995. That means, over five years, you’ve paid $5,687.20 in interest. 

And let’s just ignore the fact that, due to depreciation, that car that you’ve just paid $50,000+ on is now worth just $18,752.41 (average value of 37% of original cost after five years).

Use The Penny Hoarder’s car loan calculator to figure out how much you’ll pay with real-life numbers that match your scenario.

How Car Loan Interest Rates Work

Paying off your car loan early, if you can afford it, seems like a no-brainer then. However, before you start strategizing about how to pay off your car loan ahead of schedule, do some digging to determine what kind of car loan you have.

In an ideal world, your loan will be a simple interest loan. If you have not yet purchased your car, only consider lenders that will offer you a simple interest loan. This means the interest is calculated entirely on the principal balance of the loan.

But if your lender charges precomputed interest, that means they will calculate how much you will pay in interest over the life of the loan and include that in your total balance. That means, even if you pay off your car early, the payoff quote will include all the interest you would have paid had you kept the loan open. In this case, there are absolutely no financial savings in paying your car loan off early.

One other element of your loan to research is payoff penalties. Payoff penalties are legal in 36 states and allow lenders to charge you a penalty (usually a fixed percentage of the remaining balance) for paying off your car loan early. In this case, it may be more expensive than what you would have paid in interest over the life of the car loan.

Will Paying Off Your Car Loan Early Hurt Your Credit Score

It is not likely that paying off a car loan early will hurt your credit score, but it could be keeping you from growing your credit score. Regular, on-time payments account for roughly 35% of your FICO credit score, making it the most important factor. Making monthly payments on a car loan is a great way to show lenders you are responsible with repaying your debts.

In addition, lenders like to see a nice mix of credit (mortgage, car loan and credit cards are the big three). Keeping your car loan open also helps extend the length of your credit history. If you have no other open credit (like a credit card), keeping your car loan open may be advantageous in building up your score if you eventually intend to buy a house.

5 Strategies for Paying Off Your Car Loan Early

If you have a simple interest car loan, your credit is in good standing and your loan doesn’t have any payoff penalties, it may be wise to pay off your car loan ahead of schedule. Not only will you avoid spending heaps of money on interest, but it will also give you the financial freedom of hundreds of dollars back in your monthly budget.

The best advice for paying off a car loan early: treat it like a mortgage. If you are a homeowner, you have likely heard that making an extra (13th) payment toward your mortgage principal every year can shave years off your loan. If you pay even more toward the principal each year, you can easily get your 30-year mortgage down to 15 years—and you’ll be able to drop PMI (private mortgage insurance) costs much earlier.

Of course, home loans tend to be much bigger than vehicle loans, so the potential to save is much larger, but the logic works the same with your car loan.

These strategies for early payoff are all effective, if done right:

1. Make One Large Extra Payment Every Year

If you can count on your grandma slipping a fat check into your Christmas card every year without fail, don’t use that money to splurge on alcoholic eggnog (OK, maybe one bottle). Instead, apply it directly to your car loan as a lump sum.

If you have autopay scheduled online, you can log into your account and simply arrange to make a one-time payment. If you’re old-fashioned and pay by phone or mail, simply call your lender and let them know you’d like to make an extra, one-time payment toward the principal.

Apply this logic to any unbudgeted (aka, not-planned-for) funds, like a bonus at work or a tax refund.

2. Make a Half Payment Every Two Weeks

Talk with your lender to see if you can switch to biweekly payments, instead of monthly. If your lender allows you to pay half of your monthly loan amount every two weeks, you will wind up making 26 half payments. Divide 26 by 2, and you get 13 full months of payments, paid over 12 months. That means, by the end of the year, you will have essentially made an extra car payment.

Just check your budget first to ensure that kind of payment plan is feasible.

3. Round Up

Rounding up to the nearest $50 or even $100, if you can swing it, is a great way to add extra money every month to the principal. For example, if your monthly payment is $337, you could round up to $350 or even $400 to essentially pay an extra $13 or $63 a month. This will wind up knocking a few months off the life of your loan.

If you have autopay scheduled, log onto your loan platform and see if you can add the additional funds toward the principal each month so you don’t even have to think about it.

4. Resist the Urge to Skip a Payment

Some lenders may let you skip one or two payments a year. So kind of them, right? Wrong. They do this knowing it will extend the life of your loan, meaning they will rake in even more of your hard-earned cash in interest fees.

Unless you fall on very hard times, fight the urge to skip a payment. You will wind up paying more in the end if you do.

5. Refinance, but Exercise Caution

If you had a poor credit score when you bought your car and opted for a seven-year loan to keep payments low, it might make sense to refinance. Perhaps you’re two years into the loan, you’ve got a higher-paying job, and your credit score is in great shape. You could potentially refinance at a lower APR and build the loan out over 36 months, saving you two years and lots of money in interest.

But borrower beware: Don’t refinance to get a lower monthly payment by extending a loan, as you will end up just paying more in interest. 

When You Shouldn’t Pay Off Your Car Loan Early

As we’ve seen, it doesn’t always make sense to pay off your car loan early. But there are more reasons to hold your horses than just payoff penalties and precomputed interest.

Here are some other reasons not to pay off your car loan early:

  • Lack of emergency savings. Bankrate reported early in 2021 that most Americans could not afford a $1,000 emergency. Just 39% have enough to cover such an unexpected expense. If you are a part of that 61% without a well-padded emergency fund, prioritize adding funds to a high-yield savings account to protect yourself and your family should the unthinkable happen. And it’s not just your family’s medical emergencies; you may need to cover a deductible on your renter’s insurance in the case of a break-in, the cost of an unexpected car repair or even a terrifying trip to the vet when your dog eats something he shouldn’t.
  • Higher-interest loans. If you have a reasonable interest rate on your car loan but are drowning in credit card debt, focus on the debt that has the highest interest rate. Credit cards historically have interest rates in the high teens, so they make the most sense to pay off first. If you are free of credit card debt but have a mortgage or student loans, compare those interest rates to that of your car loan to figure out which makes the most sense to pay down with extra funds.
  • Lack of credit history. If you refuse to get a credit card and don’t yet have a house, a car loan is your best bet for building your credit score. Keeping your car loan open could positively affect your credit score.
  • Investments. For most drivers, car loan APRs are not terrible. If you have some extra funds and are thinking about paying off your low-interest car loan, consider instead investing in your retirement fund or even buying a few stocks on your own. The average stock market return is about 10%. Obviously, you could wind up losing money, but in general, if you invest and hold, over time, you should expect your money to grow.

Timothy Moore is a managing editor for WDW Magazine, and a freelance writer and editor covering topics on personal finance, travel, careers, education, pet care and automotive. He has worked in the field since 2012 with publications like The Penny Hoarder, Debt.com, Ladders, Glassdoor, Aol and The News Wheel. 

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

How Does Non-Farm Payroll (NFP) Affect the Markets?

What Is Nonfarm Payroll?

A nonfarm payroll is an economic report used to describe the number of Americans employed in the United States, excluding farm workers and select other U.S. workers, including some government employees, private household employees, and non-profit organization workers.

Known as “the jobs report” the nonfarm payroll looks at the jobs gained and lost during the previous month.

The US Nonfarm Payroll Report Explained

The NFP report studies US employment via two main surveys by the US government of private employers and government entities.

•  The U.S. Household Survey. This report breaks down the employment numbers on a demographic basis, studying the jobs rate by race, gender, education, and age.

•  The Establishment Survey. The result of this survey tracks the amount of jobs by industry as well as the number of hours worked and average hourly earnings.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics then combines the data from those reports and issues the updated figures via the nonfarm payroll report on the first Friday of every month, and some call the week leading up to the report “NFP week.” Economists view the report as a key economic indicator of the US economy.

How Does NFP Affect the Markets?

Many investors watch the nonfarm payroll numbers very closely as a measure of market risk. Surprise numbers can create potentially large market movements in key sectors like stocks, bonds, gold, and the US dollar, depending on the monthly release numbers.

Investors create a strategy based on how they think markets will behave in the future, so they attempt to factor their projections for jobs report numbers into the price of different types of investments. Changing or unexpected numbers, however, could prompt them to change their strategy.

If the nonfarm payroll number reflects a robust employment sector, for example, that could lead to a rise in US stock market values along with a hike in the US dollar relative to other global currencies. If the nonfarm payroll points to a downward-spiraling job sector, however, with declining wages and low employment growth, that could portend a stock market downturn and the US dollar could also decline in value, as investors lose confidence in the US economy and adjust their investment portfolios accordingly.

4 Figures From the NFP Report to Pay Attention To

Investors look specifically at several figures within the jobs report:

The Unemployment Rate

The unemployment rate is central to US economic health, and it’s a factor in the Federal Reserve’s assessment of the nation’s financial health and the potential for a future recession. A rising unemployment rate could result in economic policy adjustments (like higher or lower interest rates), which could impact the financial markets, domestically and globally.

Higher-than-expected unemployment could push investors away from stocks and toward assets that they consider more safe, such as gold, potentially triggering a stock market correction.

Employment Sector Activity

The nonfarm payroll report also examines employment activity in specific business sectors, like manufacturing or the healthcare industry. Any significant rise or fall in sector employment can impact financial market investment decisions on a sector-by-sector basis.

Average Hourly Wages

Investors may look at average hourly pay as a good barometer of overall US economic health. Rising wages point to stronger consumer confidence, and to a stronger economy overall. That scenario could lead to a stronger stock market, but it may also indicate future inflation.

A weaker hourly wage figure may be taken as a negative sign by investors, leading them to reduce their stock market positions and seek shelter in the bond market, or buy gold as a hedge against a declining US economy.

Revisions in the Nonfarm Payroll Report

Nonfarm payroll figures, like any specific economic benchmarks, are dynamic in nature and change all the time. Thus, investors watch any revisions to previous nonfarm payroll assessments to potentially re-evaluate their own portfolios based on changing employment numbers.

How to Trade the Nonfarm Payroll Report

While long-term investors typically do not need to pay attention to any single jobs report, those who take a more active, trading approach may want to adjust their strategy based on new data about the economy. If you fall into the latter camp, you’ll typically want to make sure that the report is a factor that you consider, though not the only one.

You’ll want to look at other economic statistics as well as the technical and fundamental profiles of individual securities that you’re planning to buy or sell. Then, you’ll want to devise a strategy that you’ll execute based on your research, your expectations about the jobs report, and whether you believe it indicates a bull or a bear market ahead.

For example, if you expect the nonfarm payroll report to be a positive one, with robust jobs growth, you might consider adding stocks to your portfolio, as they tend to appreciate faster than other investment classes after good economic news. If you believe the nonfarm payroll report will be negative, you may consider more conservative investments like bonds or bond funds, which tend to perform better when the economy is slowing down.

Or, you might opt to take a more long-term approach, taking the opportunity to potentially get stocks at a discount and invest while the market is down.

The Takeaway

Markets do move after nonfarm payroll reports, but long-term investors don’t have to make changes to their portfolio after every new government data dump. That said, active investors may use the jobs report as one factor in creating their investment strategy.

Whatever your strategy, a great way to start executing it is via the SoFi Invest® brokerage platform. It allows you to build your own portfolio, consisting of stocks, exchange-traded funds, and other investments such as IPOs and crypto currency. You can get started with an initial investment of as little as $5.


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).

2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.

3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.

For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
SOIN21127

Source: sofi.com

17 Biggest Home Buying Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer looking for a starter home or a seasoned homeowner ready to upgrade or downsize your property, the buying process is similar. From searching for the perfect place to call home to putting in an initial offer, it’s an exhilarating and life-changing adventure for new and experienced buyers alike.

And with such a major decision on the line, it’s important to make sure you don’t come to regret your decision in the future or miss out on your dream home by making a common — but avoidable — mistake.

17 Home Buying Mistakes to Avoid

Simple missteps like overestimating your DIY skills or making a lowball offer can put a damper on the excitement you feel during or following the home buying process. And they can cost you money, stress you out, and give you buyer’s remorse.

But, if you know what the most common mistakes are and you prepare in advance, you can bypass them — and the negative side effects they come with.

These are the most common home buying mistakes you should seek to avoid.

1. Not Reviewing Your Budget

Before you buy a home, you need to know what you can afford. This means taking a deep dive into your budget and reviewing your current costs and expenses, as well as estimating any new costs and expenses you’ll take on from owning a home.

For example, additional or increased costs may include:

  • Your monthly payment for rent or a mortgage
  • Property taxes
  • Homeowners insurance
  • Repairs and maintenance
  • Landscaping
  • Homeowners Association (HOA) or condo fees
  • Furniture
  • Utilities

You should also budget for a home emergency fund to cover potential problems like broken appliances or unexpected repair and maintenance costs.

If the estimated costs are too high, it might mean you have to rethink your budget by lowering your price range or reducing your homeowner expenses.

Knowing what you can afford beforehand ensures that you only look at houses within your budget and aren’t tempted to overspend.

2. Overlooking the Community

A house is one thing, but the community it’s in is another. Many homebuyers become excited about a particular property and fail to pay attention to the neighborhood or area it’s in. However, where a home is located can have a significant impact on your quality of life and overall happiness.

For example, pay attention to location-based factors such as:

  • The property’s proximity to an airport, dump, or train tracks
  • Whether it’s a family-oriented neighborhood
  • How close it is to amenities like public transportation, schools, and parks
  • How far it is from your place of work
  • Where necessities like grocery stores and gas stations are located

It’s also useful to look into future developments in the area, like commercial buildings, apartment complexes, and public spaces. If you’d prefer to live away from busy public areas, purchasing a property close to a future strip mall might not be a great option for you.

Or, if you want to be part of an up-and-coming area, planned developments give you a clear idea of what to expect in your neighborhood in the next few years, like new restaurants or off-leash dog parks.

Take some time to think about what you want to be close to or far from before you start your home search. Consider your interests and lifestyle to determine where your ideal property would be located, then use the information to ensure you wind up in a community that you feel good about.

3. Forgetting About Maintenance Costs

The great part about renting is that you don’t have to worry about the costs of homeownership like appliance repairs, building upkeep, or landscaping. But you do have to cover these expenses when you buy a new home.

As with forgetting to make a budget, forgetting to consider ongoing maintenance costs has the potential to wreak havoc on your finances. And avoiding maintenance and upkeep will only end up costing you more money in the long run because it will lead to larger repairs and more serious problems.

Homeowner maintenance includes a variety of recurring tasks, such as:

  • Mowing, trimming, and weeding
  • Snow removal
  • Applying paint and stain
  • Cleaning gutters
  • Pressure washing decks, patios, and siding
  • Chimney cleaning
  • Exterior window washing
  • Servicing your heating and cooling system

Depending on the home, it may also include tasks like replacing shingles, treating hardwood floors, or hiring an arborist to prune your trees.

When it comes to getting these jobs done, you can either take them on yourself or hire a professional to do them for you. However, both will cost you some combination of time and money.

Most home maintenance tasks require equipment. So if you plan to tackle them yourself, expect to cover the costs of equipment, like buying a lawnmower or a ladder or renting a pressure washer. And, if you hire a contractor to do your home maintenance for you, you’ll of course need to pay them.

Maintenance costs aren’t included in your mortgage loan, so you need to be able to cover them out of pocket. When reviewing properties, consider what kind of maintenance the property will need and whether you can afford it. Not only does it cost money, but it also takes a lot of time.

If a high-maintenance property isn’t a fit for your lifestyle or budget, look for something that requires less work, such as a newer home or lower-maintenance property like a condo.

4. Not Getting a Preapproval

One of the first steps you should take on your journey to homeownership is to get a mortgage preapproval. A preapproval is the amount a bank agrees to lend you based on factors like your savings, credit score, and debt-to-income ratio.

Having a preapproval tells you exactly how much a bank will allow you to borrow, giving you a maximum purchase price for your home.

Without being preapproved, you have no idea how much a mortgage lender is willing to give you or what your interest rate will be. This means you’ll be house shopping with no real budget in mind. You won’t even know if a bank will approve you at all, meaning you could be wasting your time even looking for a home in the first place.

Before you think about booking a showing or talking to a realtor, book an appointment with your bank or a mortgage broker. Find out exactly how much you have to work with so you can view homes within your price range and budget.

5. Only Looking at a Few Properties

Buying a home is a major undertaking, not just financially, but emotionally as well. Only looking at a handful of houses won’t give you a realistic picture of what’s on the market, what home prices are like, or whether something better is out there.

Book multiple showings to get a feel for your options. Even if you think you’ve found your dream home early on, there’s no guarantee you’ll get it. Keep your options open and check out a wide variety of properties to give yourself some perspective.

Who knows, you might find a hidden gem or dodge a bullet simply by taking your time and not limiting your options to a handful of properties.

6. Not Having a Real Estate Agent

When embarking on a home buying journey, you may be tempted to save yourself some money by opting to go without a buyer’s agent. But for most people, that’s a mistake. Unless you’re well-versed in real estate law and property negotiations, you should have a good real estate agent.

After all, their fees are typically covered in your mortgage as part of the closing costs of the home, meaning you don’t have to pay for them out of pocket.

But that’s not the only reason you should have a realtor when buying a property. A buyer’s agent provides many benefits, such as:

  • Networking with other realtors and property owners to find new and upcoming listings
  • Having access to property listing tools such as the MLS
  • Negotiating offers and conditions
  • Helping you to find a broker, lawyer, or other professional you may need
  • Handling important paperwork
  • Ensuring you’re aware of any important disclosures

An experienced buyer’s agent will work for you, helping you to find the perfect property not only for your lifestyle and budget but based on what’s available. They’ll take on the heavy lifting when it comes to paperwork, showings, and communicating with sellers and their agents, giving you a chance to focus on more important things.

7. Not Making a Wants vs. Needs List

Some people jump straight into viewing properties without evaluating their needs versus their wants. But it’s a common mistake that complicates the home buying process and causes decision paralysis. When buying a home, it’s essential to know what you need in your new home compared to what you would like it to have.

For example, if you have a dog, a yard could go on your needs list, while something like a pool or walk-in closet might go on your list of wants. If a lack of closet space would be a deal breaker for you, you might list the walk-in closet as a need for you instead.

You can give this list to your realtor, which will help them to filter through potential properties to show you. This saves both of you from wasting time viewing homes that won’t work for you.

And, it encourages you to get your priorities straight by forcing you to think about what you really need to be happy and fulfilled in your new home. Plus, knowing what you want gives you a better idea of your budget and which bonus features or upgrades you can afford.

If you don’t make a list, you could end up buying a property that isn’t a great match for your lifestyle.

8. Taking on Too Much Work

Fixer-uppers tend to be romanticized in reality TV shows about house flipping and interior design, but they’re a lot of work. Overestimating your DIY skills and taking on a house that’s going to require a significant amount of time and money to renovate or repair can quickly turn your motivation into buyer’s remorse.

On top of a mortgage payment, you’ll have to cover the costs of materials and labor for any upgrades or renovations that need to be done. If you’re handy, you can save money on labor, but you’ll still need tools, supplies, and a serious time commitment.

If you have to hire professional contractors to complete the work for you, expect costs to be relatively high depending on what you need done. If a home project goes over budget — which happens often — you don’t want to be left in a bad financial situation and an unfinished home.

Before moving ahead with a home purchase, consider how much work you’re willing to take on and how much of a renovation budget you can afford.

9. Buying in the Wrong Market

In real estate, there are two basic types of extreme markets: a buyer’s market and a seller’s market. In a buyer’s market, there are a variety of homes available for you to view and consider, meaning sellers are more likely to try to entice you with competitive prices and other incentives.

In a seller’s market, there aren’t many homes up for sale, so buyers have to compete against one another to win bidding wars. This often results in paying over the asking price, which increases monthly mortgage payments and possibly even your down payment.

The best time to buy a home is in a buyer’s market. Sometimes, waiting for a season or two to buy will save you a significant amount of money and keep you from the stress and uncertainty of buying in a seller’s market.

If you’re able to, buy when the market is in your favor and not working against you.

10. Feeling Uncertain

If you feel uncertain about a home, an offer, your real estate agent, or your financial situation, it’s not the right time for you to buy. Purchasing a house is one of the biggest financial commitments you’ll ever make, so you need to feel confident that you’re making the right choice for you, your budget, and your family.

If something feels off, carve out time to figure out what’s causing your uncertainty. It’s normal to feel nervous about taking on a home loan, especially if you’re a first-time homebuyer, but watch out for feelings of apprehension, uneasiness, or even dread.

Your home buying experience should be positive, so if your gut is telling you to reconsider, it might be best to take a step back and reevaluate.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t buy a home at all. It just means you need to change something about your situation, such as getting a new real estate agent, looking at more properties, or lowering your budget. Consider what will make you feel confident about buying a home and don’t move forward until you feel comfortable, positive, and satisfied.

11. Making a Lowball Offer

Making a lowball offer on a property is a rookie mistake that many seasoned and first-time homebuyers make. It offends home sellers, starting negotiations off on the wrong foot and sometimes even ending them altogether.

Sellers often spend a lot of time working with their real estate agents to price their homes based on the market, comparable homes in the neighborhood, and the state of the property. Just like you need to work within a budget for your home purchase, they need to make a certain amount of money from their home sale.

Lowball offers are rarely accepted and don’t provide much benefit to either party.

When making an offer on a home, listen to your real estate agent and offer a fair price. Being respectful and considering the true value of a home in your offers makes them more likely to be accepted.

12. Not Talking to a Broker

While a bank is often the first place you go to find out how much you can get approved for, they’re not your only option. A mortgage broker can provide you with a variety of different mortgage rates and terms from different lenders, allowing you to choose the best offer.

As with your bank, you’ll need to provide financial information like pay stubs, your credit score, and details about your assets and debts. The broker will use this information to shop around and find you the best interest rate and mortgage terms based on your financial situation.

Often, they can find you a better deal than what your bank is offering. However, make sure your broker has your best interests in mind. Don’t take out a mortgage with a disreputable or unestablished lender just to save some money.

A good broker can save you a lot in interest, so they’re worth talking to regardless of whether you choose to go with one of their offers.

13. Having a Small or Nonexistent Down Payment

There are a variety of different loans when it comes to buying a home, each with different down payment requirements:

  • VA home loans, which are for veterans and require as little as 0% down
  • Conventional loans, which are the most common for those with strong credit and no military service
  • FHA loans for borrowers with poor credit and low down payments

If you’re opting for a conventional loan, you’ll likely need to have a hefty down payment, especially if you want to avoid having to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI). Typically, you have to pay for PMI if you don’t have the minimum down payment required by a lender, and it’ll cost you anywhere from $50 to $200 per month.

Most lenders prefer to have at least 20% of the purchase price as a down payment. So, if you were buying a home for $350,000, you’d need to have $70,000 cash to put toward your mortgage.

Not planning for a sufficient down payment can put a huge damper on your home buying experience. It affects how much a lender will give you, your interest rate, and whether you have to pay PMI. Plus, it impacts your cash flow and the funds you have to put toward closing costs, renovations, and repairs.

Make sure you know how much you need in advance and plan ahead to avoid a disappointing and disheartening experience.

14. Going Without a Home Inspection

When you make an offer on a house, you have the option to make it dependent on a home inspection. Some lenders even make it a requirement of your mortgage terms. But if they don’t, or if you’re buying your property without a loan, you may choose to go without a home inspection.

But skipping a home inspection can cost you a lot of money and stress down the road.

Home inspectors are certified professionals who inspect a property’s condition. They review the structure, plumbing, electrical, exterior, and interior elements of the home and provide you with a report detailing any issues they find. For example, a home inspector would catch wiring that is not up to code or water damage in the basement.

These reports help you to avoid major repairs and give you an overview of the property’s condition. This can save you from buying a home that needs a new roof or that has a mold problem. Seeing as home inspections typically cost between $300 and $500, they’re often worth it.

Even if you choose to move ahead with a home purchase after you receive your inspection report, you can use it to renegotiate your offer based on any repairs that need to be made.

For example, if the report noted that the railing on the deck needs to be replaced, you could either request that the seller have it fixed or reduce your offer by how much it would cost a contractor to do.

15. Not Including the Right Conditions in an Offer

Your real estate agent will help you to figure out which conditions to put in your offer, but the most common include:

  • Home inspection
  • Financing
  • The sale of your current home
  • Closing date
  • Fixtures and appliances
  • Who pays which closing costs

You can also request an appraisal or survey, repairs, or specific cleaning tasks.

Conditions protect you so that you don’t commit to purchasing a house before you know you have financing and a home inspection in place. And they keep you from walking in on moving day only to find out the appliances weren’t included in your purchase price.

Base your conditions on the property you’re interested in and make sure they’re fair and within reason. Add too many unreasonable conditions to an offer and you risk getting rejected by a seller.

16. Not Seeing a House Yourself

Although video tours are OK, they don’t give you the full sensory experience of a home. You don’t pick up on any strange smells or noises, and you don’t truly get a feeling for the size or condition of the space or the neighborhood it’s in.

Even having a friend or family member view a home in your stead is a better option than going with video alone — especially if you won’t be able to visit yourself before you make an offer.

Ideally, though, you should visit and view a home yourself before you commit to buying it. If you happen to be buying a home in another state or country, try to plan a trip beforehand to look at houses. If you can’t do that, consider finding temporary housing to stay in after you arrive so you can search for a home in person.

If you don’t, you could end up buying a property you aren’t completely happy with or one that has unexpected issues.

17. Not Checking Your Credit Rating

Buying a house means having a solid grasp of your personal financial situation, including your credit score. Knowing your credit score keeps you from encountering any disappointing surprises when you talk to a bank or broker about getting preapproved for a mortgage.

Monitoring your credit score gives you a chance to improve it before you apply for a mortgage, increasing your chances of being approved and getting offered more competitive rates.

Check your credit score before you get too far into the home buying process to see what your rating is and whether you have any recent dings like late payments that may affect your interest rate or mortgage terms.


Final Word

Buying a house is meant to be an exciting and enjoyable experience. With such a major personal and financial commitment on the horizon, you want to do everything you can to avoid buyer’s remorse after you sign the dotted line.

Prepare yourself by getting your finances in order, having a clear idea of the kind of place you want to call home, and understanding the current market to have a happier, more successful home buying experience.

Source: moneycrashers.com

3 Questions About Compound Interest — Answered | The Simple Dollar

Compound interest is an incredibly powerful force. It allows your money to start growing on its own, with the returns exploding in value over time, if you have the patience.

While the idea is easy to understand, the actual application of it can be tricky. Does it make a difference if money is compounded monthly or quarterly? How does one teach the idea to young children? Are there any places that offer steady compound interest with a high interest rate? Let’s dig in!

In this article

Impact of bank compounding quarterly

Angie writes:

I used to keep my savings at one bank but I didn’t like their service so I switched everything to a new bank. The new bank is great except that they only put interest in my checking account quarterly. The APR on both accounts is the same. I’m trying to figure out how much I’m losing and if it is worth it to find another bank.

It’s probably not worth it to find another bank if you like the customer service at your current bank.

Let’s say you have a large amount in savings — $100,000. Let’s also say that the bank offers 0.5 percent APR on their savings account, which is a reasonable amount in the current banking world. I’m guessing that your old bank compounded monthly, as that’s very common in banking, and your new bank compounds quarterly.

At your old bank, with monthly compounding, you would earn $501.15 in interest in a year. At your new bank, with quarterly compounding, you would earn $500.94 in interest in a year. That’s right, over the course of a year, with $100,000 in the account at 0.5 percent APR, the difference between the two is about 20 cents.

With interest rates as low as they are, different compounding rates don’t make a huge difference. However, if interest rates rebound strongly, you may want to pay attention. Let’s say that interest rates were 5 percent instead of 0.5 percent. In that case, the monthly compounded account would generate $5,116.19 in interest, whereas the quarterly compounded account would generate $5,094.53 in interest. Suddenly, you’re talking about $22, which might be enough to be concerned with.

Unless interest rates rebound a lot, I wouldn’t worry too much about the rate of compounding in your savings account. If you have a big enough balance that it’s making a large difference, there are likely better places to keep your money than a typical savings account at a local bank. Your best approach is to simply find a bank with a good interest rate and good customer service and stick with them rather than chasing a better compounding frequency.

[Read More: What Kind of Bank Account Is Best for Your Money?]

Teaching son about compound interest

Mindy writes:

How can I teach my son about the power of compound interest? He is 6. We put some money in a savings account but it is growing slowly and he doesn’t really get it.

Speaking from personal experience when teaching my own children this lesson, the key is to make the compounding periods small and the interest rate big so that they see what’s happening.

For my own children, when they were very young, we illustrated compound interest with a bowl of pennies. The goal was to make compound interest as tangible and physical as possible.

We withdrew a bunch of rolls of pennies from the bank and put a bowl of pennies out on the table, starting with 30 or so. We told them that each day, the number of pennies in the bowl would grow by 10 percent — in other words, for every 10 pennies in the bowl, we would add one penny.

We had them guess how many pennies would be in the bowl in one month. Each night, we’d count the pennies, then we would add one penny for every 10 we counted.

Their guesses were all super low, so they were blown away by the growth of it — the bowl was literally overflowing by the end of the month, with incredibly fast growth over the last week.

Later, we offered them a very high weekly compound interest rate on their allowance money if they deposited it at the “Bank of Mom and Dad.” In other words, if they held their allowance in their hand and decided to deposit it with us, we would give them 5 percent interest each week on their savings. At first, our children were hesitant to take advantage of it, but when one of them started to save for a big goal and they saw how the savings were accelerating thanks to the power of compound interest, they all jumped on board. We actually had to put a cap on weekly interest!

The message is simple. If you want your kids to learn about compound interest, make it tangible and visual. Make it important to them. Make the rate of growth rapid, so that their patience is not overly tested. Once they see the idea, it will stick with them for life.

[Read More: Some Thoughts on Parenting and Personal Finance Success from an Experienced Parent]

High rate of steady compound interest

Jerry writes:

Are there any investments that offer a high rate of steady interest? Bank accounts are so low these days and everything else is so variable.

Unfortunately, investments that offer a very steady rate of return offer a very low rate of return these days. It’s not like it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when you could buy U.S. Treasurys that paid 10 percent or more. Even as recently as 2007, online bank accounts could be found that paid as much as 6 percent per year.

Before we dig too much into this, consider why banks offer interest on bank accounts in the first place. In really simple terms, they do it because they need to have a certain amount in their vaults in order to lend out money to other customers. In essence, the money in your checking or savings account ends up being the money that banks lend out to people getting mortgages and business loans.

The reason that you won’t find steady, solid interest rates much above 1 percent right now is because of the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve sets a number of interest rates that dictate how much banks can charge each other for temporary loans and how much the Federal Reserve charges them for emergency loans. If banks have access to money at the low interest rates that the Federal Reserve offers, they don’t have a whole lot of incentive to offer high interest rates to customers.

Think about it this way. If a bank can borrow money from another bank for 0.25 percent, why would they give you much more than that in interest on your deposits? All a bank wants is money in their vaults as inexpensively as possible so they can lend it out in the form of business loans and car loans and mortgages. If they charge a lot more than 0.25 percent, they’re probably going to lose money by doing so.

So, as long as the Federal Reserve keeps interest rates low, your bank will give you low interest rates on your savings and checking accounts. It will only go up when the Federal Reserve raises rates.

We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

Source: thesimpledollar.com

Easy Ways to Free Yourself From Debt

Wedding decor / Shutterstock.com

You’re ready to be debt-free. Bravo!

If you want to live free of debt, you can. And if you’re committed to the idea, you’re ready to take the next step.

Here are some steps to get started on the road to financial freedom.

1. Wipe out debt with this little-known strategy

There’s a way to dig yourself out of debt that many people don’t know about: personal loans.

With a free website called Credible, you could erase all of your credit card debt in record time. Credible gives you real prequalified rates on loans available without any impact on your credit score. Credible will match you with a low-interest loan to pay off all your credit cards at once — potentially saving you thousands in interest charges.

It’s free to check your rate online, and it only takes two minutes.

2. Find cheaper car insurance in minutes

Slashing your biggest expenses is a great way to find extra money to pay down debt.

Example? Car insurance. Simply shopping your policy could save you hundreds.

In the past, shopping for a new policy would take forever. First, you’d have to call the insurer, provide lots of information about yourself and your car, and by the time you finished there was no guarantee you’d get a better quote.

That was then. Today, finding cheaper car insurance rates is a breeze.

These days, you can use a comparison site like The Zebra to compare rates from 200 providers all at once, giving you every option possible — saving you up to $440 a year. Yep, in just two minutes you can save yourself $440 a year. Now that’s some serious savings.

Take two minutes, try it yourself, and see how much you can save.

3. Hire a professional to figure it all out

Identifying your spending patterns and where you can cut back is the key to getting ahead of your credit card debt.

A good financial adviser can help you figure out exactly how much money is coming in and going out each month, including your mortgage or rent, insurance, utilities, credit card payments and other bills.

If you need help finding a financial adviser, a great place to start is with SmartAsset’s free financial adviser matching tool, which connects you with up to three qualified financial advisers in five minutes. Each adviser is vetted by SmartAsset and is legally required to act in your best interests.

If you’re ready to be matched with local advisers who will help you reach your financial goals, get started now.

4. Pay no interest for up to 18 months

Why pay interest when you don’t have to? Unless you’re one of the relatively few people who actually pays off his or her credit card in full every month, you’re carrying an expensive balance and paying lots of interest. If that’s you, you should be using a 0% APR credit card.

The best 0% APR credit cards offer no interest on new purchases for up to 18 months. The choice is simple: Make sure you’re using one of these cards to help maximize your savings.

5. This lazy trick will save you $126 at checkout

Another way to find extra money to pay off debts? Save money whenever you shop.

Getting the best price when shopping online is a hassle. After you’ve compared prices and searched coupon codes, you end up frustrated before you even bought anything. But there’s a better way.

With just one click, a free shopping assistant called Honey instantly applies the best promo codes and discounts straight to your shopping cart in seconds — saving you an average of $126 a year. No more coupon hunting!

Listen, you’re going to buy the stuff you need. You might as well pay less. Even if it’s not huge savings, every bit gets you closer to living that debt-free life.

Start saving yourself more time and money, just add Honey — it’s free.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Source: moneytalksnews.com